BEIRUT: In the wake of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declaring the near total eradication of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, some political sources have suggested that the party might also initiate the gradual withdrawal of its forces from the Syrian front, thus paving the way for a political settlement in Lebanon based on the Cabinet's policy of dissociation.
This suggestion is mainly emanating from the March 8 block, based on the claim that Hezbollah's potential withdrawal from Syria is an indication of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s rising confidence in the wake of military advances against numerous opposing factions during the six-year conflict.
However, with Hezbollah forces and other Iranian-backed militias still present in Syria to provide leverage to Assad in negotiations with opposition factions, this declaration seems premature.
While Prime Minister Saad Hariri signaled at the conclusion of Monday's round of consultations at the Baabda Palace his desire to continue as Prime Minister, he stressed, however, that he would proceed with his resignation in case negotiations failed, saying that he cannot head a government which partners with a group that interferes in the affairs of other Arab countries.
Hariri’s remarks have countered recent claims that his resignation is a thing of the past, claims that ignore his assertion of seeking a proper policy of dissociation.
The way Lebanon is currently dealing with Hariri’s resignation and its motives is flawed, with the March 8 block supposedly throwing its support behind the Lebanese prime minister without taking concrete actions to address his concerns. Thus, a more serious conversation is needed in order to deal with this situation, and not just to save Hariri face.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman signaled that Hariri would not continue to head Lebanon’s coalition government; remarks that Hariri or other leading Sunni figures cannot simply ignore. Simply put, Hariri cannot completely disregard his Saudi backing, and must also ensure that his rising popularity within the Sunni community doesn't take a hit if he goes back on his word.
However, it remains to be seen whether Hezbollah will implement a timetable for its withdrawal from the different regional conflicts to shield Lebanon as a result of negotiations between the Western powers and Tehran, whose position remains unclear in the wake of French mediation efforts to ensure that Lebanon adopts a policy of dissociation.
While some have noted that Hezbollah began withdrawing elements of its forces prior to Hariri announcing his resignation from Saudi Arabia over two weeks ago, news of the party's withdrawal was discredited due to its involvement in the battle for Abu Kamal, the Syrian town bordering Iraq.
Hezbollah truly withdrawing from the Syrian front would have to be built upon Russia’s declaration that the war in Syria is approaching the end, with the focus shifting to a political resolution of the conflict in the wake of Assad's visit to his Russian counterpart in Sochi last week.
Regardless of whether Hezbollah's withdrawal from Syria materializes, Hariri’s resignation has forced a conversation that must be dealt with accordingly.
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